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State v. Hnulik

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

February 21, 2018

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
DALLAS HNULIK, Defendant-Appellant.

         APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF EDDY COUNTY Lisa B. Riley, District Judge

          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General Santa Fe, NM Laurie P. Blevins, Assistant Attorney General Albuquerque, NM for Appellee.

          Bennett J. Baur, Chief Public Defender, William A. O'Connell, Assistant Appellate Defender Santa Fe, NM for Appellant.

          OPINION

          EMIL J. KIEHNE, Judge.

         {¶1} Defendant appeals his conviction for second-degree murder arising from the shooting of his girlfriend, Brandy Capps (Victim). Defendant argues that statements made by Victim should not have been admitted at trial because they were inadmissible hearsay, and that his conviction must be reversed. We hold that all but one of the challenged statements were properly admitted under Rule 11-803(3) NMRA. The remaining statement was not admissible under any exception to the rule against hearsay, but its admission was harmless error. Defendant also challenges the admission of evidence about a previous domestic violence dispute between him and Victim. We hold that the domestic dispute evidence was admissible under Rule 11-404(B) NMRA.

         BACKGROUND

         {¶2} Defendant was in a romantic relationship with Victim for the two years that preceded her death. The evidence showed that the relationship was rocky and Defendant occasionally became violent with Victim. At the time of Victim's death at the end of July 2010 she lived in Lubbock, Texas, but was visiting Defendant and friends in Artesia, New Mexico, where she used to live. On the day of Victim's death, Defendant was in the driver's seat of Victim's car as the couple set out from Defendant's father's house to run errands. Victim was in the passenger seat. Defendant testified that he reached into the back seat area to get a revolver, and as he brought the gun to the front seat area, it went off. A bullet struck Victim in the face and she died as a result of the gunshot wound.

         {¶3}At trial, the State argued that Defendant intentionally shot Victim to prevent her from testifying against him in a domestic violence case pending against him in Lubbock, and out of anger because she planned to break up with him. Defendant testified that the shooting was an accident and that the gun simply "went off." Defendant claimed that the gun was in a bag of clothing in the back seat of the car. He testified that he did not know the hammer of the gun was cocked, and that as he was bringing the gun over the seat, the gun fired accidentally.

         {¶4} Among the evidence the State presented to prove that the shooting was not an accident, Victim's friends and family testified about statements Victim had made to them. Collectively, they testified that Victim stated that she was anxious to leave Artesia and never return, and that she wanted to break off her relationship with Defendant. The State also presented evidence of a 2009 domestic violence incident in Artesia involving the couple in which the officer who arrested Defendant heard him shout "I'm not going to jail over this shit, " and saw him standing over Victim in an aggressive manner.

         {¶5} Defendant challenges the admission of Victim's statements on hearsay grounds, and argues that the domestic violence incident was. improper propensity evidence and that it was unfairly prejudicial. For the reasons that follow, we are not persuaded.

         DISCUSSION

         {¶6} "We review the admission of evidence under an abuse of discretion standard and will not reverse in the absence of clear abuse." State v. Sarracino, 1998-NMSC- 022, ¶ 20, 125 N.M. 511, 964 P.2d 72. An abuse of discretion occurs when a trial court "exercises its discretion based on a misunderstanding of the law." State v. Vigil, 2014-NMCA-096, ¶ 20, 336 P.3d 380.

         I. Two of Victim's statements were relevant to negate Defendant's accident defense

         {¶7} The State introduced statements that Victim made to two witnesses, Brooklyn Edwards, Victim's niece, and Dova Cronian, a former coworker and friend of Victim's. Defendant objected to these statements as hearsay. The Court admitted the statements made to Ms. Edwards as both excited utterances and evidence of Victim's state of mind and ...


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